Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of course the Bible is not a scientific textbook - that's not the point


 By
Sean Ewart

This is what non-fiction doesn't look like.
“The Bible is not a scientific textbook.”

That is, without exception, the response given by Christians confronted with the six-day creation story, the global flood, or the parting of the Red Sea. It’s a response that seeks to salvage religion in the face of empiricism – to regain the confidence of a flock presented with the accumulating testimony of scientific data. The refrain has nearly become dogma as its recitation continues to shelter Christianity from the prying eyes of the quizzical. If the Bible is not a scientific textbook, the argument asserts, then its scientific errors cannot be used against it. 


Enough. The Bible is obviously not a scientific textbook and no one is asking it to be and that is not the point. What the Bible is, what it is supposed to be, is a work of non-fiction. Christians believe that Jesus really died on Friday and come back to life three days later on Sunday [sic]. They really believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he walked on water, that he turned water into wine (without first using the water to grow grapes), and that he raised Lazarus from the dead. These are Facts that make up the Christian worldview.

And as with all non-fiction books the Bible is filled with other Facts, some less consequential than others, than are tangential to the main story. Balaam’s donkey talked to him. The Apostle Paul was a poor public speaker. God told the Israelites not to chop down fruit trees while laying siege to a city because trees are not people. 

The formula is the same in other non-fiction books. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, for example, does not merely recite the Facts of Malcolm X’s life. There are other Facts littered through the book. There was rampant racism in Omaha, Nebraska. Several of X’s family members joined the Nation of Islam. The prison where X did his time had a debate team. These are verifiable Facts that, if wrong, would cast a shadow over the entire narrative. If Omaha was actually a post-racial Utopia, we would question X’s grasp of reality from that period forward. And while The Autobiography of Malcolm X is surely not a scientific text book, the existence of gravity is never called into question. No one is raised from the dead. There is no global flood recounted. 

In short, we have reason to trust the story X tells us because his version of reality tracks well with what we know about the universe we live in. Is it 100% accurate? No. But it’s a worthy attempt. And, after all, the Autobiography of Malcolm X was not inspired by God. Some inaccuracies are to be expected. 

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus really did calm a storm by talking to it. That Elijah was taken to heaven on a chariot of fire. That mankind was formed on the sixth day. That bats are birds. And this is the book Christians believe to be inspired by God. 

The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but its science is so poor that it begs the question: if the Bible is wrong about the basic laws of the universe, what else is it wrong about?

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